Once again, a Heathrow Airport case reminds us that there is need for National Guidance on Sikh Kakaars & the Turban.
Some years ago, someone advised Heathrow Airport authorities and the Department for Transport that it is OK for Amritdhari Sikhs to wear wooden or plastic miniature Kirpans. Now, a Heathrow Airport case going back to September last year, shows how local managers can get hold of the nearest Sikh representative for the advice which suits them!
The careless and sometimes even insulting attitude of security officials towards the Sikh kakaars and the turban concerns all Sikhs. Our experience over the last 70 years is that even non-identity Sikhs of today may become full identity Sikhs tomorrow. In the last 12 months, a Sikh has been driven from pillar to post seeking support from Sikh organisations and MPs to persuade Airport security staff to adopt a more understanding attitude towards the Sikh turban or dastaar. They should be aware through their training that the Sikh turban represents much more than just headgear or headwear by at least calling it turban or dastaar. That was a polite request in a Sikh Council letter of 26 January 2018.
The background is that on 11 September, 2017, this Sikh, himself an airport official, felt offended by the attitude of a Security Guard and his use of the description “headgear” for the Sikh turban or dastaar. At one time or another, many turban wearing Sikhs have experienced similar careless and even rude attitude of security staff and their ignorance about Sikh identity. ]During one trip a lady official told me that she had been advised that it was OK for Sikhs to take off their kada when going through Security, implying that I was being difficult by not taking it off.]
This turban wearing Sikh then took up the matter in steps from local managers to Sikh organisations when he had no success in getting satisfactory response. In addition to two MPs and Lord Indarjit Singh, the organisations mentioned in communications are the Sikh Council UK, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha and Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick. In the meantime, the Heathrow security training officer had armed himself with advice casually sought from a local senior Sikh. This advice by one Sikh (with a couple of organisational credentials) was then described by the Heathrow Director of Communications in his response to the local MP as: All have advised us that using the term Religious or Cultural headgear would not be offensive to the Sikh community.
So, the technical general term headgear has been used as an excuse for remaining ignorant about the Sikh turban and to refuse a simple polite request for the Heathrow security personnel to be made aware of Sikh religious sentiments attaching to the Sikh turban. This is not a satisfactory state of Sikh affairs while prejudice against Sikh identity continues.
Once again, the pointer is to a strong Sikh Council UK led by a professional level team of equals, accountable to Gurdwaras and affiliated organisations. That is only possible if all Sikh organisations are affiliated to the Council while retaining independence in own areas of community service.
Gurmukh Singh OBE, a retired UK senior civil servant, chairs the Advisory Board of The Sikh Missionary Society UK. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The article first appeared at The Panjab Times, UK
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.